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ALinUTAH 06-14-2013 07:03 PM

Wee Travels: Exploring the Plains
I hadnít been back to Kansas in the summer (I was born and raised there) for probably 15-20 years. I also had never seen the western Nebraska sandhills. That sounded to me like a roadtrip. When most people think of the plains, itís just something they dread crossing. They just get on the interstate, put their heads down, twist the throttle and suffer through it. I knew that the prairie had its own unique beauty that you donít necessarily see at 70mph on I-70. I decided this time that I was going to slow down and ride the farm and ranch roads and see some country. I went as slow as I wanted and stopped when I wanted without ever having to consider traffic.

I originally thought I would do this on my little 250cc dualsport so I could get out in the sand. But in the end I decided to ride my new weestrom. I put together a route thru the sandhills that kept me on gravel roads, and a surprising amount of oiled backroads. Special thanks to inmate Fifthcircle for his help. Then I dropped down into KS and followed the Republican river into Clay county. After visiting some family there, I rode from Manhattan down thru the Flint Hills to about Burns. My return trip was westward along the Smoky Hill River to about the Colorado border, where I got on the pavement and got home. When I was done I had covered 3018 miles over 11 days.

I saw a lot of this

Quite a few of these

A lot of these

And a few of these

I am no photographer. I carry a little Canon point-n-shoot in my pocket. What you will see here is my feeble attempt to capture the beauty of the plains and a unique riding experience through it. Itís not easy to do. In the west you photograph prominent geological features that jump out at you. Thatís easy for any ole amateur pitcher-taker like me. The plains are about big wide open spaces and very few people. In Nebraska for example, I jumped off from Oshkosh and landed in Burwell after covering almost 400 miles over two days without seeing a town, and maybe a half dozen vehicles. I was able to get fuel at a bait shop. That kind of remoteness is what I love in a ride. Itís hard to document but I tried.


ALinUTAH 06-14-2013 07:25 PM

The first two days were thru NW Colorado and southern Wyoming, heading towards western Nebraska. I wasnít sure if the snow had melted enough yet to ride the Uintas north slope road, but there is one good way to find out. So I rode north up the mirror lake highway. The snow at the pass made it doubtful that I would be riding the north slope road.

At the Bear River Lodge I turned east and immediately a ROAD CLOSED sign confirmed my suspicion. Still too much snow at the high points. Thatís okay, there was another way around the north side of the Uintas I had always wanted to explore, through the ghost town of Piedmont.

Across the north side of the Uintas and past Flaming Gorge

Across the NW corner of Colorado to where I camped near Battle Mtn.


ALinUTAH 06-14-2013 09:13 PM

Next morning I rode thru the Snowy Mountains. It was still winter there.

I passed thru Laramie, WY and took a left at the University of Wyoming to ride the Rogers Canyon road toward Chugwater.

Eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska is kind of cool when you arenít on I-80.

I ended up in Oshkosh for the night. After checking into the Shady Rest motel (didnít know you could still get a room for $45) I went for a walk to find something to eat. The only place to eat in town was the Eagles lodge, and tonight was hamburger night. I wasnít sure if I had to be a member, but I walked in and they fed me and quenched my thirst.

Thatís something I notice everywhere I go. All the little towns are shut down and boarded up. You can see where the cafes and stores used to be, but they are victims of the economy I guess. Itís sad. I like to stop in the small town cafes for breakfast or afternoon pie and coffee but they are hard to find. Any more I end up drinking my coffee out of a styrofoam cup while standing outside a gas station, and eating something out of a microwave. Or I find a shady spot to make a pot myself.


ALinUTAH 06-15-2013 07:53 AM

The sandhills of western Nebraska are a huge area of stabilized dunes, about 250 miles across from west to east. It can't be farmed so it is cattle country. The Ogallala aquifer underneath is very shallow so every low spot is a pond or lake. Waterfowl are everywhere. Besides the highways that run north to south, there are many primitive roads thru the sand, and a few good gravel roads with some sections of oiled road. Being solo on a big bike I stuck to the gravel. This is the route I took.

I spent a day making my way to the McKelvie National Forest near Valentine.

Lots of reptiles

When I was doing my research on this area, I saw a road extending from hwy 61 NE to the McKelvie NF that was labeled as primitive but looked wide and therefore possibly improved on google maps satellite view. This was the Carver ranch road. It was good gravel for about 20 miles. But then it started to get soft. The ranchers cover some of the sand roads with hay to keep from getting stuck, like this...

It was like riding on a mattress. Eventually it went thru a gate into the front yard of a ranch house. What continued out the back was an overgrown sandy 2-track. While I stood there thinking about what to do, a woman pulled up in a pickup. She said it was 8 miles of sand and nobody had been back there for years as far as she knew. I decided to turn around and find a different way.

Near the Niobrara River I cut over to the Eli road that would take me to the NF.

Coffee time self-portrait. I even found a quonset with a well to refill my water.

After riding thru the open Sandhills all day, you suddenly come upon a pine forest.

Camp for the night at the steer creek CG.

I got a little rain that night. And woke up to turkeys gobbling.


IDRider 06-15-2013 09:20 AM

Great pictures.Thanks for sharing. :clap

ALinUTAH 06-15-2013 09:25 AM

The next morning I gassed up at the Merritt Lake store and continued east on Brownlee Road, North Loup River and Calamus River. Today it would barely hit 65 degrees.

Found a nice lunch spot at the Long Lake State Rec Area

Camped at the Ft. Kearney State Rec. Area. It was a really nice CG but a little too close to the noisy interstate for my tastes.

TheBlurr 06-15-2013 11:03 AM

Looks like a good ride

doc4216 06-15-2013 11:10 AM

Great RR so far! I want to explore all of this country and this makes me want to see this area.

DutchTerror 06-15-2013 06:35 PM

Looks great, Al! Keep 'em coming!

RedRockRider 06-15-2013 08:47 PM

First class, AlinUtah! Following along with interest! :clap

flyrodder 06-15-2013 08:56 PM

Great stuff! Sounds like you picked the right bike after all. Nice job of taking the pics; I never grow tired of the Sand Hills area. When you get a chance, take a look at -- amazing images of the Hills and the Platte River system.

ALinUTAH 06-15-2013 09:06 PM

Okay so now I'm riding into Kansas. From Ft. Kearney I rode straight south to the Republican river just downstream of Harlan County Lake. There is a nice gravel road that follows the river for about 50 miles or so.

Eventually I started to get into unmaintained roads and dead ends so I started working my way south and east, this was around the Lovewell Reservoir. I came across a sign for a Pawnee Indian Village museum so I went to check that out. The remains of a walled Pawnee village that contained 40 lodges, or at least half of it that wasn't tilled up and farmed, has been preserved. The museum is built over an excavation of one of the larger lodges. Here's a link describing it...

The only good picture I have is of the view they had over the river.

After spending a night at my cousin's farm and the next day visiting family, I rode to Tuttle Creek Reservoir to camp for the night. I spent a lot of time out there back in college so I checked out a couple of my old fishin/drinkin spots. It hasn't really changed.

I wanted a K-State sticker for my pannier, so the next morning I rode to Aggieville for breakfast and waited for Varneys bookstore to open. Mission accomplished. Go Cats!

I rode gravel roads south thru the Flint Hills. I took McDowell Creek Road out of Manhattan, jogged over to Humboldt Creek Road, Parkerville and Kelso roads down past Council Grove Reservoir, then the Helmick Road and Z road to Diamond Creek. Stopped in Cottonwood Falls for lunch. That's kind of a happening town. They had some kind of festival and parade going on, and there was a bluegrass festival planned the next weekend. While I sat in the cafe eating lunch, two different VStrom riders came over to talk to me. One of them asked me what in the world a guy from Utah, who lives in some of the most scenic country on earth, was doing riding around in Kansas, LOL. I headed SW out of town, staying between 50 and 177, eventually ending the day in Newton.

The route alternated between roads out in the open prairie and then dropping down into wooded creeks.

I don't think this silo has been used in a while.


ALinUTAH 06-15-2013 09:26 PM

Thanks everybody for reading. This trip was a lot of fun. More to come.


ALinUTAH 06-16-2013 01:43 PM

After a day off the bike, I headed west, staying close to the Smoky Hill River.

Limestone fence posts.

So far I had been lucky with cool temps. Today it was in the 90s and very windy out of the south, so I was leaning into it all day. I Camped at Cedar Bluff Reservoir. It stayed warm and windy all night.


ALinUTAH 06-16-2013 02:11 PM

I continued west along the Smoky Hill River.

I guess this is the headwaters. Puddles and buzzards. This was the last water I saw in it.

Today I saw some cool limestone formations. The central plains were covered with an inland sea 150 million years ago and these bluffs and outcroppings are remnants of that.

Castle Rock

Monument Rocks

This is Kansas?


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